Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

A common condition 


What is peripheral arterial disease (PAD)?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), sometimes known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), is a common condition which occurs when there is a narrowing or blockage in the arteries of your leg resulting in reduced blood flow. This narrowing of the artery is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits along the artery wall. 

Who is at risk?

Risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Your risk of developing PAD also increases with age 

What are the symptoms and signs?

Over 70% of patients are not aware and do not experience any symptoms of PAD until serious complications occur. Symptoms often gradually develop and worsen over time. A common symptom is pain in your legs or calf when you are walking, which usually eases when you rest.

Some other common symptoms of PAD are:

  • Cramping in one or both of your legs
  • Coldness in your foot
  • Wounds on your toes or feet which take a long time to heal or do not heal
  • Slow growing brittle toe nails
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • Hair loss or slow hair growth on your legs
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should inform your doctor. If these symptoms occur suddenly or get rapidly worse, this could be a sign of a serious problem and you should seek urgent medical assistance.

How to prevent and how to manage a peripheral arterial disease

PAD can be managed and improved by making changes to your lifestyle:

  • Quitting smoking
  • A healthy diet
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Keeping active and exercising regularly

If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, this will be managed by your doctor and may require medication and regular monitoring. Your doctor will be able to signpost you to services which can support you to make changes to your lifestyle, such as quitting smoking. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of PAD, you should inform your doctor. Your doctor will examine you and may do some non-invasive tests to determine the severity of your condition.

Commonly, an Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI) reading is performed. An ABPI compares the blood pressure in your arms with the blood pressure in your legs and feet. This test can be performed quickly and easily in your doctor’s surgery. You will be asked to remove clothing covering your arms and remove your shoes and socks. You will need to lay down whilst the nurse takes blood pressure readings from your arms and legs.

Once your doctor has assessed you and evaluated your ABPI reading, they may refer you to the hospital for more in-depth testing and assessment from a vascular surgeon.